Pastor, Let’s Think This Year: John Calvin as Model of Thoughtfulness

For Calvin, learning was continually part of his life.

In some way Calvin’s educational life is unremarkable. Attending schools at a young age and pursuing degrees are somewhat standard fare. Yet, even in the mundane, we learn from Calvin. If pastors would be theologians, they must give themselves to disciplined study, engaged in rigorous programs of thought. Rising early, reading well, writing precisely, and thinking deeply require a great deal of concentration. Calvin’s example is one to heed at exactly this point. Calvin studied diligently.


By all accounts, John Calvin, the great Genevan reformer and systematician of the Reformation age, was an educated man. His early educational endeavors help set a trajectory toward a rigorous pattern of intellectual engagement that will mark his ministry. If pastors would cultivate a robust life of the mind (and they should), then paying attention to the intellectual discipline of someone like Calvin might provide needed encouragement and example.

For Calvin, learning was continually part of his life. At an early age, his father had planned for Calvin to pursue a career in theology. Towards that end, Calvin left for Paris and entered the College de le Marche at the tender age of twelve. It was not long after, however, Calvin moved to the College de Montaigu, a place known for its adherence to orthodoxy and strictness. It is at Montaigu that Calvin would meet John Major, read Peter Lombard, and become acquainted with the writings of St. Augustine.[1]

For reasons not completely clear to me, Calvin switched from the study of theology to the study of law around 1528. In order to pursue this course, Calvin enrolled at Orleans to study under their famous Faculty of Law. Here Calvin meets Pierre l’Estoile, a faculty member at Orleans and premier legal scholar. Calvin’s law studies also took him to Bourges around 1529 where he met the rival of l’Estoile, Alciati, an Italian legal scholar. Both men had an impact on Calvin, though Calvin personally (though not necessarily intellectually) favored his fellow Frenchman, l’Estoile. These were formative years for Calvin. Bruce Gordon remarks, “the enduring legacy of Calvin’s legal training on his theology was enormous.”[2] Yet, more than his theology was impacted. The program of study required Calvin to throw himself into a disciplined regimen. Gordon remarks that the rigor of his studies “may have been brutal, but it instilled in Calvin a disciplined pattern of life and work he would maintain until his death.”[3] In short, as his friend Theodore Beza notes, “He worked hard has his university studies,” and this hard work would characterize Calvin throughout his life.[4]

Read More